When Ram J. Shahaney, who passed away in Chennai on Tuesday aged 89, took over as Ashok Leyland Ltd.’s (ALL) first Indian Managing Director in 1978, ‘control raj’ was in full flow in India. It was particularly difficult for ALL to expand as it was a foreign company by definition (British Leyland held the majority stake). One of Shahaney’s first moves was to expand the capacity to 40,000 trucks. As the parent firm was not ready to invest, he got it to cut its stake and found innovative ways to raise resources for the expansion. “He had the audacity to dream big,” recalled R. Seshasayee who followed in Shahaney’s footsteps to lead ALL. “It was not easy in those days to negotiate with the labyrinth of government without straying from the path of rectitude. He was adept at that,” he adds about his boss for 30 years. He took ALL into the defence sector as he saw it as an opportunity to de-risk the business. “Under his able leadership, we expanded our footprint,” said ALL Chairman Dheeraj Hinduja.At the same time, he put his foot down when proposals came for ALL’s entry into the car business. He never saw merit in it.“Ram Shahaney literally laid the foundation for modern Ashok Leyland. He completely changed the culture in terms of technology, processes, sales, etc.,” said Venu Srinivasan, Chairman, TVS Motor Company. “Ram has been a great champion for the industry,” said Suresh Krishna, Chairman, Sundram Fasteners.
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